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Why Do Horses Wear Hoof Boots? Plus the 5 Best

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My neighbor bought his first horse and, like all of us, has questions. Recently he noticed I ride some horses with hoof boots and others without them. So he asks me why horses wear hoof boots and how do I determine which horses to put them on?

Hoof boots are a type of footwear for horses that work similarly to human shoes. They protect the horse’s feet and provide traction. They are frequently used for horses that can’t tolerate wearing standard steel horseshoes attached with nails.

Many horse owners leave their horses barefoot or un-shod. They believe that this helps the hoof expand and toughen up. However, if you plan on riding your horse on rocky terrain or in the snow, hoof boots can help protect its feet from abrasion and injuries.

Picture of a hoof boot.

In this guide, we cover:

  • Do horses need hoof boots?
  • What are the different types of horse hoof boots?
  • 5 best hoof boots.
  • How long can a horse wear hoof boots?
  • Are hoof boots better than shoes?

Your horse may be better off in boots than shoes.

You might be wondering if your horse needs shoes or boots. A lot of people think that horses need to wear shoes to protect their hooves. However, there are many reasons why your horse may be better off in boots or barefoot than shoes.

I reached out to Dr. Jonathan Roberts (BVSC), the remote veterinarian from petkeen.com, and asked him what the benefits are of leaving a horse unshod, and he provided the following information:

Increased shock absorption:

Energy is easily dissipated, and shock is better absorbed in a barefooted horse.  This benefits the overall longevity of your horse’s feet, especially when they are ridden on harder substrates.

More efficient use of the foot:

An unshod horse can evenly distribute weight through all areas of the foot, including the hoof wall, sole, frogs, and bars. A shod horse bares nearly all weight through the hoof wall. 

Taking the load off the joints:

A horse’s hoof should be able to bend and twist to a certain degree when crossing uneven terrain or turning sharply. When shod, the hoof wall becomes “fixed” and loses the ability to bend and twist.  This places unwanted strain on the horse’s joints and ligaments (especially the collateral ligaments).

Adaptability:

You can fit barefoot horses with various boots appropriate to the current terrain or situation.  Just like shoes in humans, you can select options such as the degree of cushioning and tread pattern that best suits your riding situation. 

Cost:

Quite simply, trimming is less expensive than shoeing. 

The overall health of the horse:

If you choose to keep your horse unshod, you must take care of its feet. This entails keeping their feet properly trimmed, feeding them correctly, and having exceptional housing with a well-planned exercise regime. By doing so, the health of hooves improves, as does overall general health and longevity for horses.

Do Horses Need Hoof Boots?

We all know that riders wear boots, but did you know that even horses could wear boots? Horse hoof boots are made of rubber, vinyl, or plastic, and they are designed to cover your mount’s hooves completely, even underneath.

However, please don’t get them confused with bell boots which protect hoofs from overreach injuries over the top of the hoof. But, not all horses need hoof boots.

If your horse is barefoot and you plan to ride over rough surfaces like rocky terrains, you should use hoof boots to protect its feet.

The advantage of horse boots is that horses can even wear them over horseshoes for extra protection. Hoof boots also work as temporary shoes for horses that have lost their metal shoes or have developed cracks in them.

You can also use boots for horses that have foundered or need medication on their hooves – you simply put the medicine on their feet and then cover it with hoof boots so the medicine stays in place.

What are the Benefits of Hoof Boots?

To summarize the benefits of horse hoof boots:

  • Ideal for barefoot horses to protect their hooves over rocky terrain.
  • Temporary boots if your horse has lost or cracked its shoes.
  • It can be worn over shoes for added protection for your mount.
  • For applying medicine over the hooves.
  • For transitioning a horse with sore or tender feet after being unshod and while transitioning to going barefoot.

Some brands of hoof boots provide better traction and stability than metal horseshoes. They also distribute the weight more uniformly compared to metal shoes. Because of these reasons, more and more horse owners are choosing to use hoof boots over horseshoes.

5 Best Hoof Boots

Cavallo and Easycare are the two top brands in hoof boots; their boots are durable and designed for everyday wear. The Cavallo hoof boots are secured with velcro, and, when fitted correctly, they don’t move when riding.

Easycare makes a range of boots, from trail riding to performance. One problem for some horses is that they are difficult to put on, and some people have to use a mallet to drive the boots on their horse’s feet.

This could be caused by a couple of things, letting your horse’s hoofs grow out or the horse’s foot is unusually wide because they stay unshod. But I notice that horses that wear hoof boots need to have their feet trimmed regularly for proper fitting.

If you’re in the market for treatment boots, I suggest looking at Woof wear and Tubbease; they are both good options. Here are my picks for the five best hoof boots:

Prices pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

What are Different Types of Horse Hoof Boots?

Hoof boots are categorized as follows:

Riding Hoof Boots

You can use riding hoof instead of shoes for general riding and training purposes. Some models can also be used over horseshoes for added protection in snow or hilly terrain. They are sturdier than emergency hoof boots described below.

However, the ease of putting on/taking off riding boots varies from brand to brand. Some horse owners also use riding boots as emergency hoof boots.

They come in various styles, densities, and thicknesses, and these factors determine how long a horse can wear them.

Emergency Hoof Boots

Emergency hoof boots are a temporary arrangement when your mount has lost/cracked its shoe until a farrier can replace them. You can also use riding boots for emergency replacement of horseshoes. But emergency boots are a lot lighter and easier to pack.

I know many horse owners keep two sets of emergency hoof boots – one to carry on the trail and the other to keep at the barn. Make sure to choose an emergency hoof boot that won’t irritate their pastern or coronet band if your horse has to travel a long distance in the boots.

Treatment/Medicine Hoof Boots

Treatment hoof boots are not used for riding. They are only used when your horse needs medicine on its hooves and can help save yards and yards of bandages, tapes, and wraps.

Some treatment boots are watertight and can be filled with liquid medicines to treat an abscess or water to soak sore hooves. Most treatment boots are breathable and lightweight, so your horse can wear them for prolonged periods of treatment.

How Long Can a Horse Wear Hoof Boots?

The period for which your horse can wear hoof boots depends on its type. Ideally, your horse should not wear riding hoof boots for too long. If you plan to use them on a barefoot horse, then allow a breaking-in period first.

During the breaking-in period, your horse should not wear the riding hoof boots for longer than 10-15 minutes on the first day. You can slowly extend this period until your horse can comfortably ride in them. Always ensure that the boots aren’t too tight or too loose because improperly secured hoof boots can end up seriously hurting the horse.

Many hoof boots are designed to last for several years. Some brands even claim that their hoof boots last more than two years.

Emergency boots, depending on their quality, can also be worn for miles and miles of riding. They should be sturdy enough to protect the pastern and coronet even if you ride for several hours in them.

Treatment/medicine/soaking boots are not designed for prolonged use and are generally kept on just for overnight use. These are made of vinyl and are lightweight and breathable. Do not let your horse move around too much in them.

Picture of a horse getting shoed.

Are Riding Hoof Boots Better than Horse Shoes?

Not all horses are shod or need to be shod. In such a case, you can use hoof boots. 

  • Hoof boots are gaining acceptance even among owners of hardworking horses. They are handy for horses that you use periodically but need protection when working over rough terrain. Naturally, you must ensure that the boots fit well; otherwise, they might rub against your horse’s hooves if they are too small or too large.
  • Some owners like to keep their horses barefoot because it helps the hooves toughen up. Hoof boots are an excellent alternative for them.
  • Some hoof boots are definitely better than shoes because they distribute the weight more evenly, unlike shoes that load all the weight on the edges.
  • Top brands of hoof boots utilize compounds that provide superior shock absorption capacity compared to metal shoes.

The downside to hoof boots is that finding the perfect fit may be challenging. Unfortunately, they could come off at an inappropriate time. Some boots are also a chore to put on and take off.

Loose hoof boots could let dirt and debris in, which could hurt your horse. Last but not least, hoof boots are unsuitable for performing horses because they tend to be bulky and could inhibit the graceful movements and maneuvers expected in shows and events.

Conclusion

Hoof boots are an excellent alternative to shoeing your horse. You can use them for horses that aren’t worked too often or too hard. They protect horses’ feet from rocks, snow, and other dangerous terrains when you take them out occasionally. You can also use hoof boots in an emergency when the metal shoe is cracked or lost.

 High-quality boots can also provide greater stability and traction and can be used for horses having sore hooves.

The downside to hoof boots is that finding a pair that fits ideally could be tricky. Moreover, they could be tough to put on and take off. They could also come off while riding. Always consider all these factors when deciding whether to shoe or not to shoe.

FAQs

When should a horse wear boots?

A horse should wear hoof boots when its feet need protection; for example, a horse’s hooves must be protected on the rocky or snow-covered ground when it doesn’t wear metal shoes. You can also use them with horseshoes, or if your horse has sore feet or an abscess, you should try using boots.

Can a horse wear hoof boots over shoes?

You can put some hoof boots over your horse’s shoes. Adding hoof boots over horseshoes adds padding and protection to the hooves and soles while riding on rough terrain.

How long do hoof boots last?

The length of time a pair of hoof boots lasts depends on the quality of the boots, terrain, and your horse’s activity level. But in general, a high-quality pair of hoof boots could last a year or longer.